The prejudice torwards the female child has in many ways led to ripples in some families, and in extreme cases, divorce. In this report, CHARLES ADINGUPU reviews a survey on this gender controversy in the family as men trouble themselves in search of a male child and advocates the way forward.
Before Vincent Maduka married his wife twenty-six years ago, he had planned for five children consisting of three boys and two girls. But this arrangement was tucked in a destiny that would not be.
Narrating his ordeal to Saturday Vanguard at his Ojodu residence in Lagos, Maduka recollects with nostalgia that the first two years of his marriage was an agonising one because no child was in sight, despite frantic efforts they made.
He laments, "initially, my aged mother (now deceased) heaped all sort of venom on my wife because of our childless state. Also, my two elder sisters even made matter worse as they would not allow the poor girl (my wife) to be.
All medical explanation by the Doctor to them fell on deaf ears. At a point, they even attempted to throw her personal properties outside my house while I was away on official duty. These in addition to gossips by neighbours were one trauma too much to bear by one woman.
The Medical Doctor has assured me that a child would definitely come having placed me on fertility medication. This, I explained to my aged mother and worried sisters who were not ready to listen to my explanation. However, God acceded to our prayers as precisely two years after, my wife became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl."
However, one thing led onto another and within a span of five years, the Madukas became proud parents of three lovely children - all girls. This fragile reprieve then opened a fresh bottle of trouble for the couple.
Just while he was basking in the euphoria of fatherhood, came a mounting pressure from the elder brother, (who has three boys and two girls) aged mother and sisters again. Their grouse: 'you must bear us a male child.
Somebody to look after you and continue from where you stop. You have tried, but you still need to do something about this even if it's one male child."
This was just a mild advice as Maduka recalls, "at a time, one of my kinsmen in the village advised me on having a concubine that would bear me a male child. That option was however contrary to my Catholic faith since I was wedded in the church, a true communicant at that."
Interestingly, the Madukas were further blessed with two additional female children, bringing the total number of their children to five.
Speaking earnestly, he says, "I've balanced my family. I just need five children I can conveniently cater for.
Despite these pressures, I'm a happy man, quite comfortable with my family size and excited with the wisdom in my decision not to take another wife for the sake of a male child.
Today, two of my five daughters are comfortably in their matrimonial homes. The third is in school in the United States of America (USA) just as the last two girls are doing relatively fine here in Nigeria," Maduka confirms.
The story of Mrs Agnes Iheme is not quite different. She gave birth to six children, all female. The husband determined to get himself a male child got involved in an extra-marital affair on the advice of his kinsmen.
Ironically, this second marriage produced three female children. He came back home a defeated and dejected man. But a short while after, the first and legal wife surprisingly had a male child for him.
A popular Lagos based lawyer (names withheld), married about 30 years ago. Soon after his wedding, the wife gave birth to their first child, a female. The second followed shortly afterwards. But his love for a male child and being determined to have one, he secretly got another woman for himself.
But the law of "karma" you may say, caught up with him as that other woman gave birth to three successive female children. He was however compelled to resign to faith as he resolved not to dare any adventure any more.
Conversely, the family of Chief Anthony Okongwu remains in disarray today, courtesy of his wife's perceived inability to give birth to a male child. Chief Okongwu took in a second woman, who incidentally gave him his desired male child.
However, as fate would have it, the first wife became pregnant and gave birth to a bouncing baby boy.
But for the Adeyemi's family in Ojota, Lagos, it was a sorry tale to recount. For them, it is "one man's meat, another man's poison," as having too many males have brought them endless grief. A family of nine, all males. Willingly,five of them joined the Nigeria Army during the civil war. The family saw the return of only one after the ridiculous and avoidable war.
According to the family spokesman, Mr. Adebayo Adeyemi "the idea of craving for male children does not arise as far as the family is concerned."
Although, Adeyemi is not against male children per say, but he's bitter and bothered about having too many of them. He, however, declared that "the notion that male children are the back bones of a family is a fallacy, as most female children are now taking up the challenges of being the pillar of families.
Tosan Omaseye, a newly married woman holds a balance view on child sex controversy. She believes that both sexes are good depending on individual experience. To her, "in most cases, if properly handled, the ability, sense and intelligent quotient (IQ) of both male and female go side by side," as such, it matters little if any to her whether she has all male or all female children.
In expressing optimism that the procreation of any sex is the work of God which nobody has an influence over, Mrs Omaseye condemns the prejudice against female child. She further posited that this should not arise in the first place, rather, families should be preoccupied with taking adequate care of their offsprings.
This view was collaborated by a retired varsity don, Dr. Sophia Oluwole in programme as she queries, "which sex that is not a child?"
According to the retired teacher, "any attempt to deliberate on women's liberation implies a tacit acceptance that women had been in one kind of bondage or another."
Taking a chauvinistic posture, Merilyn Okorokporo argues that female children have proven to be more concerned in their parents' welfare. "the girl child even after leaving home to join her husband is still interested in her immediate family affairs. But the male child may not be so involved as he may be preoccupied with the problems of his immediate family."
Long before the birth of his child, Mr. Aina Adelana, civil engineer in Lagos had been praying for a female child against his wife's wish for a male child. Fortunately for him, the first child turned out to be female. For the father of three girls and a boy, both sexes are good and a blessing from God. He is fascinated with females based on his experience about their usefulness at home and his family history at large.
The wishes, aspirations and experiences of Mr. Jimmy Yusuf is quite contrary to that of Adelana which made him prayed fervently for male children. Which he ultimately got in abundance. The father of three considers himself lucky to have all his children as males.
According to the mechanical engineer, a relation's daughter living with him who now plays the daughter's role in terms of care and other related domestic chore makes him more comfortable at home than even his legitimate sons could.
However, Mr. Yufuf believes in effective monitoring of a female child during her growing up years. Though cumbersome, but it is a task that must be done to help the child avoid falling into trouble. While a male child demands less of this control as one can easily dictate and command a male child going astray.
Yusuf believes that having a particular sex should not be a "do or die" affair. His wife had to give birth to their third child after persuasion by him when he made up his mind to stop after the first two, and had actually stopped for 49 months. During the last pregnancy, the wife enthusiastically expressed optimism that with signs she was experiencing, she would give birth to a female child.
This imagination made the couple to chose a feminine name for the child before its delivery. Alas! The baby eventually came, and it was male again. He, thereafter rebuffed other attempts to persuade him further in search of a female child.
As for him, there is no regret for having three male children, but it has recently dawn on him how useful the female child could be at home.
"I've learnt to accept what God gives me even in other spheres of human endeavour and I tend to enjoy it like that. I pray to God to give people power to appreciate what He gives them and by so doing, they will enjoy it the more.
Is anything wrong with the female child?
The wrong notion that women are no better than home keepers held by most African men still hold sway. This is reflected particularly in men's dealings with the female colleagues in the workplace.
Some have even extended this bias to their homes. This is demonstrated by the inequality of attention the male and female children get from their parents.
In an interview with Saturday Vanguard, Udofia Ekong says that irrespective of the formal education and training, the girl child acquires, her rights ultimately are guaranteed at the husband's home.
"Due to the disregard the female child suffers in our culture, often times, she is not allowed to contribute to family discussions nor her opinion sought on serious family issues.
The tradition is that whenever the father passes on, the male child automatically assumes the responsibility of head of the family, even if the male child is under aged," Ekong said.
However, for Agnes Dorgu, the first child of her parents believes that her position would not be in contention.
"We've a family of six daughters. I've no regrets because I have decided to do whatever any male first child could do giving the same play field. Though, I know that people in my neighbourhood and even relations of ours might be worried, seeing our situation as a plight.
But I feel my parents are not worried at all. Unfortunately, the African society places more value on the male child, but I do not subscribe to this archaic philosophy," she said.
In some families, the female child is seen as a supplement. And this worries Odaertey Lamptey, a Ghanaian shoe cobbler based in Lagos.
His words: "Every average family in Africa craves for a female child after about one or two male children simply to strike a balance."
The shoe cobbler observed in dismay that in most African countries, the female children are seen as a source of wealth. Despite these idiosyncrasies on female children, Lampertey believes that the female child can still play the role of a male child to a conclusive extent.
Any reason for the preference for a male child?
The preference for a male child against the female as expressed by the African man is based on continuity of the family's lineage. Someone to carry on the family's name and probably look after the estate. Tony Eziashi who hails from Ogwashi-Uku in Delta State, says it's a taboo for a man to bequeath his estate to a girl child upon transition to the world beyond."
According to Eziashi, the preference for male child has compelled most parents or family to make a male out of their female child. "I do know of a parent who gave birth to all girls. All the girls eventually got married except one of them. She remains in the home and gives birth to children whom the father adopted as his own grandchildren. They bore his name but the identity of the true father of these children were never known. The essence of this singular bold decision was for the man to ensure that his name is not forgotten when he dies.
Today, the community respects those children and they equally enjoy equal rights with other legitimate members of the community," Eziashi enthused.
A respondent who would not want his names in print stated that men generally craze for male child because they want to uphold their family name. But Andrew Oghenekaro dismisses this erroneous impression. "It is wrong, both (male or female) are children from God and face equal responsibility. These perceptions held by men against female child has denied women great opportunities that would hitherto improve on their lives," Oghenekaro noted.
He however recalled that in some developed countries like Britain and Europe, women had been given the opportunity to assume leadership role and they have done perfectly well.
The likes of Indira Ganhdi of India, Margaret Thatcher of Britain and other great women even in Nigeria who have distinguished themselves in the respective endeavours. Against this backdrop, Mathew Adepoju an elder in the church, prophesies strange things to come, saying, in a few years to come, women with their seeming awakening, can rule even this country, as most male politicians have failed us." Though this appears as huge task because certain African practices tend to favour the male child. Joseph Onwuka who hails from Arochukwu in Abia State, regrets that the female child has no inheritance in the father's estate, except in very rare occasions.
According to him, a woman has no right to give her daughter's hand in marriage. This is a function that is exclusively reserved for men. Besides, there are so many other things that women are not allowed to participate in, especially in matters relating to wealth and properties in the family."
Oghenekaro however, believes that some of these values are held because the female child would one day get married to join another family, and this tends to justify the African position of a female child not having a stake in the family's estate. Therefore, the female can only fight for a stake in her husband's family estate and not in her parent's.
Irrespective of the views held by the different respondents, the way forward for the African girl child is quality education and enough support to confront the challenges of life. And for Tega, the first of six girls in our family, this is true. She says, "already my father is leading us through the gateway of literacy. What else do I expect? Though tradition demands that fixed assets owned by my father are not ours, but educating us is enough and worth more than any estate."
As the debate continues, evidence abound to prove that a family of all female children is as good or bad as a family of all male children. As there are instances where all male children of a single family may end up as armed robbers, area boys or wayward hence in similar vein, a family of all girls may end as prostitutes and lay-about.